GIPF Revisited

A year or so back, I reviewed GIPF; an excellent strategy game that went immediately into my personal top 10, and has stayed there ever since. At the time, I had only played the basic game, and I was very impressed. I can now say that the 'standard' and 'tournament' versions of the game are even better!

For those who haven't encountered GIPF yet, a quick recap; in the basic game, players take turns to slide their pieces onto the (hexagonal) board; if they complete a line of 4 pieces of either colour, then the owner of the line of 4 gets to remove their pieces from the board, along with any pieces that extend that line. The owner of the line gets to keep his/her pieces, any opponent's pieces which extend the line are removed from the game. To win, you just have to be the last player able to make a move. (Unfortunately, the hexagonal board and sliding pieces has caused a few people to remark "So, it's like Abalone, then?"… all I can say is, using your Abalone set to play GIPF is a much better use of it!)

On to the standard and tournament games; both games introduce the GIPF-piece; a double piece with a couple of interesting properties. Firstly, when a player removes a line of pieces, they are not obliged to remove any GIPF pieces in the line, and secondly, when a player loses their last GIPF piece, they lose the game. In the standard game, players start with three GIPF pieces on the board, and play just with normal pieces. In the tournament version, the game starts with a blank board; on their first few moves, the players introduce GIPF pieces, but as soon as they put their first normal piece on the board, they must play normal pieces for the rest of the game. The GIPF pieces are very powerful - in the basic game, players lose most of their influence on the board when they make a line. With GIPF pieces, however, it's possible to make a line on one move, and still have enough pieces left to make a capture on your next move. The downside is, GIPF pieces take up two of your pieces, and therefore the more GIPF pieces you have in play, the more likely you are to run out of pieces… the relative advantages of GIPF pieces vs. normal pieces are so well balanced that there doesn't seem to be an optimum number; I have won games by placing nothing but GIPF pieces throughout the whole game, and lost to an opponent who only played three.

The TAMSK potential

GIPF is not just a game; it is the start of a project; Kris Burm intends to produce a series of six games, each of which can be played separately, or in conjunction with GIPF. The idea is that each game in the project is, first and foremost, a game in its own right, but in addition, each game comes with some potentials; special pieces for GIPF, which allow players to integrate the new game with GIPF to a greater or lesser extent.

All of the potentials in the project will work in much the same way; players will sit down to play GIPF according to the tournament rules, but after they finish playing GIPF pieces, they play loaded pieces (a loaded piece is a normal piece with one of the potentials on top). Once the loaded pieces are all in play, the game proceeds normally until a player wishes to use the power of a potential. At this stage, the players put the game of GIPF to one side, and play the game to which the potential relates. If the player who tries to use the potential loses, the potential is removed from the game and the game of GIPF continues. Otherwise, the potential takes effect… the exact effect being different for each potential in the project. Of course, players are not obliged to interrupt their game of GIPF for a second game - the potentials are designed to work well as a straight addition to GIPF as well - and indeed, until TAMSK hits the streets, that's how we've been playing. (As a side note; this means that the other games in the GIPF project have to play in about 10-20 minutes each, to avoid players completely losing track of the original game, and to allow them to finish a game in an evening… no bad thing, in my opinion.)

The first of these games is called TAMSK, and while the game itself is due out in March or April, the TAMSK potential was released at Essen last year. The TAMSK potential sits passively on top of a normal piece until it is pushed to the centre of the board; at this point, the player who owns the potential removes it from the normal piece, and slides it onto the board like a normal piece… effectively giving the player a second move.

So, you're probably wondering what kind of effect this has on GIPF? Well, playing two moves on the trot can be very powerful in GIPF, so we found ourselves fighting hard to prevent the potentials from being activated; playing defensively to block up the centre, and aggressively to capture the potentials before they can be activated. It creates a very different feel to the game, even though the potentials themselves are rarely activated.

GIPF for 1

While I'm boring you with details of GIPF, I'd like to bring to your attention a GIPF-playing computer program that is available free of charge at the GIPF web pages (; it plays an excellent game, especially at the higher levels. Congratulations to Kurt Van den Branden for an excellent piece of programming.

For the true devotee, you'll also find the results of the recent GIPF tournament on the web site, including a number of annotated games.


Here's a couple of puzzles based on the tournament version of the game:

This first puzzle was created by Kris Burm, the inventor of GIPF. It is black to move, and avoid losing (in the short term, at least). Black has 1 piece remaining, so he must make a line, or he will not be able to make a move on his next turn. However, most of black's moves allow white to capture his last GIPF piece…





In this second puzzle from a tournament game between Stephen Tavener and Walter Jacobs, white (to move) has a move which should give him a winning position. Blush I completely missed this move in the tournament, and went on to lose the game.

I'll put the answers to the puzzles at the end of the article… or get Carol to hide them somewhere else in this issue.

By the time you read this, both the TAMSK potentials and TAMSK itself should be available from Don & Co, Van Den Nestlei 7, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium. e-mail: web site:



[CAROL: can you hide these somewhere?]


Puzzle 1: black slides a piece along the line e1-e9, completing a row of 4… and doesn't capture white's GIPF piece. Since white now has a GIPF piece at e6, he must remove the pieces at b3 and c4, removing his attack on the black GIPF piece.

Puzzle 2: white slides a normal piece along the line d8-d1, completing a line for black. This removes the piece at d3 which is blocking both of whites lines, and white should capture 4 of black's pieces over his next couple of moves.